Showing posts with label liberal arts majors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liberal arts majors. Show all posts

Friday, November 13, 2020

Guilford College, a liberal arts school, cuts some liberal arts programs: Does that make sense?

 After 12 years of declining enrollments and a massive budget deficit, Guilford College is taking drastic action. President Carol Moore proposes laying off 15 tenured faculty members and cutting undergraduate programs in chemistry, physics, political science, philosophy, economics, history, mathetics, sociology, and anthropology. 

In an unsigned statement, Guildford announced that it would maintain 23 programs, including African and African American Studies: Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Exercise and Sport Sciences.

Naturally, Guildford's statement did not list the programs it was cutting. I had to find that out by reading a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

Was this a good idea?

Not in the view of some faculty members. Thom Espinosa, chairman of Guildford's Physics Department, had this to say. "This plan does not reflect on the school's philosophy in any way," Espinosa told a reporter.

Historically, Gulford has maintained a peaceful balance among science, arts, humanities, and social sciences, as is appropriate for both a Quaker school and a liberal arts institution. If this plan represents any philosophy or vision, it must be [President Carol Moore's].

 I am in total sympathy with Professor Espinosa, but President Moore had to make some difficult decisions. It is not tenable for a small college to lose enrollment over a long period of time and operate on unbalanced budgets.

In a way, Guilford College is in the same position as the German army when it invaded Russia in 1941. The Germans captured 3 million Soviet soldiers before the Russians rallied and cleaned the Germans' clock.  But the Wehrmacht had no ability to care for all the enemy troops who surrendered and basically allowed most of its prisoners to die from starvation, disease, and exposure in open fields surrounded by barbed wire.

The German army's position was that someone has got to eat, and it will be us.

I don't mean that as harshly as it may sound, but it is now clear that hundreds and perhaps thousands of tenured professors are going to lose their jobs at struggling liberal arts colleges.  I think that is inevitable.

In my view, colleges in financial trouble should spend at least some of their dwindling resources to help laid-off professors find other jobs or at least provide them with decent compensation as part of their termination packages.



Thursday, September 19, 2019

The enrollment crash is an existential threat to liberal arts colleges: Bucknell VP Bill Conley's insightful essay

Bill Conley, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Bucknell University, wrote a perceptive essay for Chronicle of Higher Education about the "Great Enrollment Crash" at liberal arts colleges. There has been a huge downturn in undergraduate education at liberal arts colleges, and no turnaround is in sight. As Conley put it:
Higher education has fully entered into a new structural reality. You'd be na├»ve to believe that most colleges will be able to ride out this unexpected wave [ declining enrollment] as we have the previous swells.
What's going on?

First, as Conley explains, the demographics are bad. Americans are having fewer children. In fact, the birth rate has fallen below replacement levels in the U.S., just as it has in Europe. There are fewer high school graduates who want to go to college.

Secondly, the demand for a liberal arts education has plummeted. As Conley reports, degrees in the humanities dropped from 17 percent of all degrees in 1967 to just 5 percent in 2015.

Moreover, the current crop of college students is more focused than past generations on getting a college degree that will lead to a good job. More and more students are choosing to major in business, biology, or economics, while philosophy majors are becoming an endangered species.

The liberal arts colleges have responded to this threat by slashing tuition prices for incoming first-year students. On average,  the colleges are only collecting half their posted tuition rates. Colleges hoped to attract more students by lowering tuition, but that strategy hasn't worked for many of them.

Of course, the liberal arts colleges aren't the only sector of higher education facing enrollment declines. As Conley pointed out, the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education has seen its public institutions lose 20 percent of their enrollments in less than 10 years.

Increasingly, families are looking to more affordable public universities for their children's college education and eschewing the small, private liberal arts schools. The obscure, non-elite liberal arts colleges are suffering the most, and several have closed in recent years.

"I don't see these trends changing," Conley wrote, "especially when coupled with stagnating income and the resulting pressure on a family's return-on-investment calculus." In short, he summarized, "Disruption is here to stay."

I agree with Mr. Conley's forthright assessment of liberal arts education; and personally, I think it is doomed. Liberal arts colleges were founded to educate students in the humanities, literature, history, and philosophy; but few students appreciate those fields of study. Furthermore, the liberal arts have been balkanized, as faculty obsess on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation so that there is no longer even a broad consensus about what constitutes a liberal arts education.

In my view, I think the small, liberal arts colleges should prepare for a dignified death because they are going to die anyway. They need to develop contingency plans for placing their students in other institutions when they close and they need to make the best provision they can for laid-off faculty members--many of whom will be unable to find new jobs. After all, what university wants to hire a middle-aged philosophy professor?

This is a sad turn of events, and I do not think the liberal arts colleges brought this calamity on themselves. Rather they are like the blacksmiths of the early twentieth century, who were put out of work by Henry Ford's cars.

I don't have a solution to this existential crisis among the small, private schools. But I have some advice for students who are choosing a college. Don't enroll at an expensive, obscure, private college. Get your degree from a reputable public institution.

And if you are a newly minted Ph.D. looking for your first academic job, don't go to work at a small liberal-arts college. Even if you get tenure at some out-of-the-way little school in New England or the Midwest, that won't keep you from being laid off. And once you lose that tenured job at a college that was closed, you will find it damned hard to get another one.